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Dive Brief:

  • About 63% of physicians surveyed experienced at least one manifestation of burnout in 2021, shooting up from 38% in 2020 and representing the highest amount in a decade of recurring survey findings, according to an article published this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
  • Mean scores for emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were higher in 2021 while satisfaction with work-life balance dropped. Meanwhile, depression scores were relatively stable, “suggesting the increase in physician distress in this interval was primarily due to increased work-related distress,” the authors wrote.
  • The findings suggest that women have been more affected by burnout during COVID-19, the authors said, also noting the results come against a backdrop of other stressors like gun violence, economic concerns and child care hurdles.

Dive Insight:

Provider burnout was rampant before the COVID-19 pandemic, but multiple studies have shown the crisis is exacerbating the issues as physicians and nurses have had to face increased risk of harassment and violence on the job as well as staffing shortages.

In a May advisory addressing burnout, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote, “Today, when I visit a hospital, clinic, or health department and ask staff how they’re doing, many tell me they feel exhausted, helpless, and heartbroken.”

The advisory called on healthcare employers and the broader community to ensure providers have access to mental health care without punitive policies, reduce administrative burden and protect worker safety through adequate personal protective equipment and steps to reduce workplace violence.

The Biden administration has used funds from the American Rescue Plan to address provider burnout and has pledged grant funding for health systems to tackle the problem.

Burnout can push providers to leave the profession or retire early, and has multiple other complications for health systems and clinics.

The study’s authors said burnout affects “quality of care, medical errors, reductions in clinical work effort, turnover, departure from practice, and healthcare costs,” adding the findings “have potentially critical implications for the US healthcare delivery system.”

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